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The Military Order of the Purple Heart

For Immediate Release

Written By John Bircher, MOPH Public Relations

Former Marine Wins Battle With Military To Adopt Her Wounded Bomb Sniffing Dog

It was pretty much a day like any other that September morning in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006 -- hot, humid and dusty, as Marine Cpl. Megan Leavey walked the roadside, searching for improvised explosive devices (IED) with her partner “Sergeant Rex,” a military service dog with whom she had worked since they trained together  at Camp Pendleton, Calif.  She never even heard the explosion when it went off because she was instantly knocked unconscious.  When she awoke, enveloped in smoke and with a constant ringing in her ears, Leavey’s immediate thoughts were about Rex, whose leash was still attached to her flak jacket.  "I remember waking up and pulling my leash and thinking, 'Oh, my God, please let there be something on the other end of this leash,'" Leavey said later, “Luckily, he was there."  Somehow, both Leavey and Rex had survived the IED blast and, despite their injuries, continued their mission, fighting through a mortar attack and small-arms fire to protect their fellow servicemembers.  Together, they finished their deployment and then spent the better part of a year rehabilitating from the wounds they had suffered together.  Megan Leavey received the Purple Heart medal for the wounds she received Iraq, but the blast ended Leavey's career as a Marine and she received a medical discharge in December 2007,

Now one of the MOPH’s newest members, Megan Leavey launched what would become a five-year campaign to adopt her German Shepherd partner, companion, and friend.  Fortunately, Rex’s injuries had not been life threatening and following his recovery he was returned to service.  Leavey' s early requests to adopt Rex were understandably denied because the military still considered him a valuable work dog.  However, now more than 10 years old and the oldest active service dog at Camp Pendleton, Rex was recently diagnosed with facial palsy, a nerve paralysis that has left him unable to serve any longer.   According to Leavey, "As a safety precaution, they don't give any dogs away.  But the dilemma with me is the minute they say he can't be adopted because he's too sick, and yet because he can't work, they'd have to put him to sleep.  I don't want to let that happen."

In her efforts to save Rex, Leavey reached out to local veterans organizations and eventually contacted the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.  Schumer sent a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force, which oversees the training of military service dogs at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.  In his letter, Schumer detailed the relationship Leavey and Rex had with one another and credits them with saving countless lives during well over 100 missions during their two six-month tours in Iraq.  In fact, Rex had been on a number of other missions during his previous tour with Marine Cpl. Mike Dowling, another handler.  By the time of his retirement, Rex had served in three combat deployments and provided over 11,575 hours of military working dog support consisting of over 6,220 vehicle inspections during random anti-terrorism searches – an amazing record.  Dowling wrote a book published in December 2011 entitled "Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog."  When he learned of  Leavey's campaign to adopt Rex, Dowling strongly endorsed her efforts.
Well, they say “every dog will have his day,” and Friday, April 6, 2012, appeared to be Sergeant Rex’s best day.  After five years of frustration, seemingly insurmountable hurdles and red tape, plus countless letters written in her struggle to save her partner, Megan Leavey was invited to join the US Marine Corps in a retirement ceremony held at Camp Pendleton in honor of Rex.

Former Cpl. Megan Leavey (right) accepts Military Working Dog Rex's leash from Lt. Benjamin Maple (left), K-9 master, during Rex's retirement ceremony and adoption at Camp Pendleton's K-9 unit, April 6. (Photo provided by “Life With Dogs.”)

The following Sunday, Megan Leavey and Sergeant Rex were welcomed back to New York at a special homecoming at the office of Sen. Charles Schumer.  “The story of Rex and Megan has touched the lives of so many across the country and today we officially welcome Rex home as a New Yorker,” Schumer said in a statement. “Now we need to make sure that we streamline the adoption process for military working dogs so that we can make reunions like this one as quick and efficient as possible.”

Former Cpl. Megan Leavey thanks all those who helped to reunite her with Rex, while SenatorSchumer pets Sergeant Rex at the “Welcome Home” ceremony. (Photo provided by Office of Senator Charles Schuimer)

For Leavey, it was an emotional day. With tears in her eyes, Leavey told one reporter “I hadn’t seen him in four years before this. He’s just so happy to be home now at my house. He’s made friends with my other pets. Everything is flowing so smoothly. I couldn’t ask for any more, I just wanted to thank everyone.” Needless to say, Rex had a few words of his own at this reuniting press conference, barking affectionately to those in attendance.

For information contact:
National Public Relations Director, John Bircher, 352-753-5535
Email: PublicRelations@Purpleheart.org
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